Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off a lopsided win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs got their first victory at home in 2016.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Koetter and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' Week 10 thumping of the Bears.
1. The offense managed to overcome a string of injuries to the offensive line, in part because quarterback Jameis Winston stepped up in a big way.
The Buccaneers hadn't had to test the depth of their offensive line much in the first half of the season, other than a handful of snaps in recent games when center Joe Hawley went down and was replaced by veteran Evan Smith. That changed in the first game of the second half of the season, and in a big way.
With his leg injuries accumulating enough to keep him out of Sunday's game against the Bears, Hawley missed a game for the first time since taking over as the starter in Week Two of last season. In addition, starting left guard Kevin Pamphile was not through the concussion protocol yet and was unable to suit up on Sunday. That pushed both of the team's interior-line reserves – Smith and rookie Caleb Benenoch – into the starting lineup – and led to the Saturday promotion of Ben Gottschalk from the practice squad. That move proved essential when Smith himself suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and wasn't able to return. Both Gottschalk and Benenoch played the first regular-season snaps of their careers. Lots of them.
The results were a mixed bag, according to Koetter. Gottschalk held his own while Benenoch experienced some struggles. That latter result wasn't completely surprising, given that the rookie fifth-round pick got a lot less offseason preparation time than most of his teammates.
"First off, Ben Gottschalk, he came up off the practice squad earlier in the week so he got very little time with the first offense," said Koetter. "For him to go out there and play 69 plays like he did, I thought Ben filled in very admirably.
"Caleb, that was his first start as a rookie and it's well-documented that Caleb missed most of OTAs because of the school thing at UCLA, the semester rule, and then he was hurt for part of the preseason. Caleb had kind of a rocky debut. He's going to look back on this someday…we have very high hopes and high expectations for Caleb but that wasn't one of his better days."
As a result, the Buccaneers were held to 80 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per tote, and quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked four times. In addition, offensive linemen were responsible for four penalties costing the offense 35 yards, though none of them were on Gottschalk or Benenoch.
Fortunately, Winston played extremely well and was able to make several big plays on the run, none bigger than his scrambling 39-yard heave to Mike Evans early in the second half.
"Jameis had a heck of a game," said Koetter. "We didn't have much going in the run game, they were doubling Mike and we were down three starters on the O-Line, so we needed Jameis to play big yesterday and he did. Jameis showed all sides of his game yesterday, showed his mobility, showed his toughness, showed his arm strength, showed his ability to read defense. That first touchdown to Cam [Brate] showed his ability to see the field."
READ: Winston Puts Bucs Offense Into High Gear2. Koetter's charges didn't always make it comfortable for him on the sideline, even when they made great plays.
Actually, "scrambling 39-yard heave to Mike Evans" doesn't adequately describe the improvisational craziness of the Bucs' most important offensive play of the game. Tampa Bay had a 17-10 lead and possession to start the second half but their opening drive started slowly. Facing third-and-10 at the Bucs' 23, Winston took a shotgun snap but was quickly chased out of the pocket by several Bears defenders. What followed was a circuitous scramble that at one point took him all the way back into the end zone before he eventually threw from the eight-yard line, more than 12 seconds after taking the snap. Evans made a leaping catch at the end of a throw that traveled almost exactly 50 yards in the air.
Like a lot of viewers, Koetter experienced a wild swing of emotions during that unexpected sequence.
"That was just one of those crazy plays," said the coach. "That really kind of offset the 'Hail Mary' [by Chicago] before the end of the half. Those plays kind of offset each other. There's a little bit of luck involved there, and it was dangerous at times. I was screaming for Jameis to throw the ball away. He pulled his Houdini act multiple times, 22 yards back, all the way back in our end zone, and then [managed] to throw it that far down the field, and a great catch by Mike."
One snap after that, Winston hit a wide-open Freddie Martino for a 43-yard touchdown. There wasn't anything particularly frightening about that play – at least from the Bucs' point of view – but it also wasn't where Koetter was expecting the ball to go at that moment.
"The touchdown to Freddie Martino, that wasn't where that ball should have gone at all but he saw Freddie get behind the safety and the corner on the backside there," said Koetter. "That was a great, unscripted play by Jameis."
If Winston and his offensive cohorts were occasionally giving their coach scares and (welcome) surprises, at least they weren't causing him physical harm. A member of the defense took care of that. After his interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, former Bears safety Chris Conte celebrated a little roughly with Koetter on the sideline, giving his coach a cut on the head. Koetter was laughing about it on Monday.
"I told him he must not have scored many touchdowns in his life if you've got to head-butt a guy with no helmet," said Koetter. "But I told him he can do it again next week if he gets another pick-six."
VOTE NOW: 2017 Pro Bowl3. The extra work the Bucs put in to evaluate their defense and try to resolve its shortcomings paid off, at least for one week.
After evening their record at 3-3 in Week Seven, the Buccaneers came home to start a three-game home stand, hoping to reel in the first-place Falcons. Instead, the team suffered a pair of losses in a span of five days to Oakland and Atlanta, and the defense surrendered 73 points and far too many yards in that brief portion of the season. Those games were practically on top of each other because the Buccaneers and Falcons played on Thursday night in Week Nine, a challenge that carried the backside advantage of a long weekend heading into Week 10.
While players got some much-needed time to rest and heal, Koetter, Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith and the Bucs' coaching staff used the "mini-bye" to drill in on defensive videotape, looking to identify and eliminate the problems that had cropped up in the previous two games. The result was a great performance by the Tampa Bay defense on Sunday, with Chicago held to 283 yards and forced into four turnovers and Jay Cutler absorbing four sacks.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Bears.
"That was great to see because so many of the things that the coaching staff identified and Mike Smith and his staff worked into the game plan [showed up]," said Koetter. "To see the players carry it out like that, to see them playing fast and playing downhill; getting after the ball; really tightening up the coverage; hitting the quarterback, disrupting the quarterback; fun to see, fun to see the guys have that kind of success.
"Across the board, the entire defense, we felt like we needed to tighten up. The word we used was, 'suffocating.' We needed to be more suffocating with our coverage. I got some really good film clips [from Sunday's game] to show them on Wednesday about doing that."
The most noticeable improvement was a more robust pass-rush, and Koetter reiterated previous claims that the secondary would be fine if it was coupled with more pressure up front. Still, one of the main concerns that Koetter and his staff had heading into last week's evaluation process was breakdowns in communication throughout the defense. That, too, was addressed, but the work is not yet done.
"It was much better," he said. "We still had a couple issues. When we were going over the grades today there were still a few things that didn't get communicated properly. That's going to be really important this week in Kansas City because it's such a loud place to play."